By Daleya Uddin
In an ancient city justifiably obsessed with its centuries’ old tried and tested rustic recipes such as cacio e pepe and carbonara, it’s a challenge to find restaurants willing to take risks with modern fusion cooking.
Located atop picturesque Gianicolo Hill, Antico Arco is among the rare exceptions offering inventive contemporary Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Rome. Overlooking the trendy Trastevere neighborhood, Gianicolo or Janiculum Hill provides a spectacular view of the historic center of the Eternal City including Saint Peter’s Dome and the Vittorio Emanuel monument. A pre-dinner walk is the perfect way to work up an appetite and soak in incredible sunsets overlooking Rome.
Despite its proximity to historic sites such as the Villa Aurelia and the Saint Pancreas Arc, the décor at Antico Arco is very modern and minimalist. Albanian born Chef Fundim Gjepali is at the helm of the dining experience, and the menu is clearly influenced by his previous experience in Albania, Spain, and France. My inner spice lover was impressed with his playful fusion of traditional locally sourced Italian ingredients and exotic spices.
My friend and I were greeted by the cheerful Chiarra, who guided us through the menu which features plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options to suit any dietary restrictions. We both love seafood, but were indecisive after being presented with a menu with so many great choices. At Chiarra’s recommendation we settled on the Finger Food tasting menu. For me it was a refreshing change to find a tasting menu in Rome that was completely pork-free. There is also an Italian Highlights tasting menu that includes the customary carbonara amped up with truffles.
Only in Rome is it commonplace to find restaurants with wine cellars set inside ancient catacombs. Antico Arco’s wine cellar is located in a fourth century Roman catacomb and boasts over 1,000 different international labels. My friend also scoped out 70 year old brandies in the contemporary open bar at the entrance of the front dining room, but decided to go with the sommelier’s recommendation for a sauvignon blanc to pair with the seafood starters.
Even the breadbasket at Antico Arco stands out with its paprika flavored grissini (dry dipping breadsticks) and warm bread rolls stuffed with sweet onions. We started off with an octopus and panzella (bread) salad accompanied by an unexpected, but pleasant barbeque flavored sauce. Next we tried the melt-in-your-mouth amberjack fish tartare seasoned with fresh ginger shavings and ginger aioli and accompanied by porcini mushrooms.
Dazzling flavours, divine desserts
The flavor combinations for the meat dishes continued to dazzle. From the chilli and yogurt sauces topping the open lamb kebab bowl to the foie gras topped beef tartare sourced from the Piedmont region. It was next to impossible to pick a favorite dish, but my votes would be for the homemade Maltagliati pasta and the cremosa of caciotta romana cheese. We loved both dishes so much that we had to ask the wait staff for more details about the ingredients. The maltagliati was served in a delicate broth of garlic, oil, and sun-dried peppers sourced from Basilicata in Southern Italy. The secret ingredient for the cremosa was a spiced honey drizzled over the creamy cheese and turnip breadcrumbs – who knew I would love turnips so much.
Somehow we rallied to make room for some truly divine dessert. The aptly named viaggio in oriente (voyage to the orient) did not disappoint with its cookie base and spiced blonde chocolate accompanied by marinated pineapples and ginger gelato. The minty Mojito flavored Italian ice was the perfect conclusion to the gourmet tasting menu.
The Antico Arco menu is tweaked occasionally to highlight seasonal ingredients or celebrate the holidays. The Halloween dessert featuring pumpkin bread, dark chocolate, and amaretto gelato is calling my name for a return visit.
Antico Arco has a private dining room for events. Reservations are a must.
For more information, check out the Antico Arco website at http://www.anticoarco.it/en/.
Contributor Daleya Uddin is an American expat currently based in Rome, where she founded http://www.dolceandmasala.com, a travel and lifestyle site. You can follow Daleya’s travel inspirations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.